So there’s this book that is about the thickness of a local phonebook, at least in it’s first edition. Which I did not read, because the revised second edition is what populated on my Kindle after no library wait at all (mysterious, for a friend tells me she is 50 out of 70-something on her library system’s waitlist. Guess I got lucky). And I read this book, in about a day or five, and it seemed to be sensible advice, if a little magical in thinking.
riiiiight, keep fats and carbs separated by at least 3 hours at mealtimes, and shoot for lots of protein and add a little collagen or gelatin to these smoothies and above all AVOID THE SUGAR.
And the weight will drop off.
But then, imagine my surprise when things indeed did start to move south on the scale. Though if you’re familiar with Dwija’s instagram, perhaps you already knew the punchline. #wow.
I’m not saying this is the simplest eating plan in the world to follow, because there is definitely a learning curve for how to properly combine (or rather, to not combine) fats and carbohydrates, but it does hold a significant advantage over, say, the Whole 30 because it doesn’t cut out entire food groups, nor does it require Draconian adherence to the rules. My favorite line of the sister-authors is “you’re only 3 hours away from your next slimming meal.” because I’d wager I’m not the first one to have ever blown a diet by letting a french fry or two slip through and then WELP, GUESS WE’LL START OVER ON MONDAY (shovels McFlurry into mouth.)
I like the balanced, this-is-how-a-grown-up-eats approach, and above all the lack of a starvation or total depravation angle. And the constant refrain that you are choosing to eat this way, and if you choose to “cheat,” it’s simply that: a choice. And one that doesn’t need to be filed under “shameful failure, do not proceed.”
One of the sisters is more of a natural foodie/purist who delights in fermenting her own sourdough and cultivating her own scobys (scratches head over spelling) for home brewed kombucha. The other one eats movie theater popcorn when she’s on a date with her husband. And then moves on.
That concept is the one I really like. The “make-the-choice-that-works-right-now-because-it’s-a-Christmas-party,” but that doesn’t careen into a spiral of shame and late-night burrito choices just because you “cheated.”
In other words, I think this must be what it’s like to eat like a grown up. And as a woman who was once, for a very prolonged period, a girl and then a young woman with an eating disorder, that has been a tricky balance to achieve. And continues to be. But I love the freedom THM gives, since you can eat pretty much all good food. Just not all at the same time.
Let me explain in a few quick paragraphs the basic parameters of the plan: (and this is as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s, so if your eyes are glazing over, feel free to disappear.)
- Don’t eat fats and carbs at the same time. Your meals are either E (energizing) or S (satisfying), and always built around protein. Now, this is an admittedly sad rule, because apples and peanut butter do not play nicely together in this universe. But! It’s for the sake of stable blood sugar, which, in turn, leads to pounds dropping off.
- The authors purport that your body runs on a twin engine metabolism, burning either fat or glucose, and if you give it one of the two available fuel sources at a time, it will burn through that one injection of fuel and then look to your stored energy supply (read: fat) and start burning through that next. (This is the part that seemed a little wishful to me. But at 14 pounds lighter, I can’t be too skeptical.)
- If you give your body both fats and carbs (glucose) in the same meal, your body will burn through both, never kicking into the reserve drive and burning your own stored fuel. If the meals are well-balanced, they’re known as an C meal, or a crossover. This is what pregnant or nursing women should shoot for to experience even, healthy weight gain (and then loss), and ensure a healthy milk supply. Is also a good template for growing children who are in no need of weight loss, but who can definitely reap the benefits of stable blood sugar. These meals look like more typical “healthy” meals: baked potatoes with butter plus steak or chicken plus grilled vegetables. All of those foods are good and healthy, but if you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll want to skip the butter on the potato (and swap it for a more glycemic-friendly sweet potato) and make sure the steak or chicken is a lean cut. Ooooor, swap the potato out entirely for a pile of broccoli or asparagus brushed with melted butter and loaded up with melted cheese and maybe some bacon. And maybe add a little crumbled blue cheese to the steak.
- So, an E-meal might be: a bowl of oatmeal with a few berries on top + low fat cottage cheese + a sprinkle of a blood sugar safe sweetener (stevia or something like it. No fake sweeteners though, and no “natural” sugars like honey or maple syrup, since they’re still sugar once they hit your bloodstream.)
- And a S-meal might look like a plate of bacon and eggs and a cup of coffee with cream (and a little collagen power mixed into it. Because it’s tasteless and mixes well into hot things, and adds as super punch of protein.)
- And a Crossover meal might look like a Caesar salad with grilled salmon and a side of roasted sweet potatoes drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan. Fats and carbs, but evenly balanced. Won’t make you lose or gain weight.
- There are also things called Fuel Puels, which as best as I can figure, are super low calorie snacks to tide you over or to help move the needle if you’re really wanting the weight to come off quicker. These would include smoothies made with almond milk, clean whey powder, a little cocoa powder and some of their approved sweetener, and maybe with a little frozen okra (one of their favorite ingredients for gut health, and surprisingly wonderful at providing thickness in soups, stews, and smoothies) and a handful of frozen berries tossed in. Another good fuel pull option might be some celery with low fat cream cheese. Or an apple with a couple almonds. These FP meals/snacks are the part of this whole program that feel the most “diet-y” to me, and the authors emphasize that they are optional upgrades for people looking to move the needle quicker, or are experiencing major blood sugar resistance.
- Eat every 3 hours during the day. And don’t eat much, as a rule, after dinner time. It sends a mixed signal to your body when it should be switching into a different metabolic mode for sleep, and it keeps your blood sugar elevated when it should be tapering off in a healthy way as your metabolism winds down.
- If you’re having an E breakfast and are hungry again in an hour or less, you can have a snack, but it needs to also be an “E.” Same with S’s. Match your closely-spaced (closer than 3 hours) snacks to your meals, if you must have them, or else you’ll trigger that cross-over mode where you’re burning both fuels and therefore not losing weight.
- Don’t get stuck in a rut. As a dyed-in-the-wool early adapter of Paleo/Whole 30/Atkins/Southbeach/whaterver high protein thing is currently popular, it’s a little scary for me to eat oatmeal for breakfast without accompanying fats. Or to eat a dinner that includes brown rice or sweet potatoes but not butter and olive oil. But my body (so I guess bodies in general, if I can make a wild inference) likes the variety. So even though it’s tempting to eat nothing but S meals (because cheese), it seems to work best if I mix in at least 5 or 6 E meals a week.
- Don’t take it too seriously. Obviously I veered wildly off the rails in Italy and drank all the wines and slurped all the cappuccinos. But because I don’t eat gluten, I couldn’t go too wild, so no pastries at breakfast and no cones with my gelato. And GF pasta tastes like sadness the world over, so even dinner was a somewhat subdued affair. But, I still managed to return to America with an irritated sweet tooth that is having trouble setting down. La dolce vita not for nothing.
- You can do this no matter what your eating/cooking style is. Like to eat Paleo? This works for that. Like buying a lot of pre made ingredients and hitting up the drive though? Works for that, too. Don’t want to cook separate meals for your people? Definitely works for that. I’ve been making lots of sweet potatoes and rice and quinoa on the side and I either eat it or I don’t, but the kids hardly notice I’ve been cooking differently. We already don’t eat buns with burgers or brats, and if it’s Mexican night I just offer them corn tortillas or taco shells and wrap mine in lettuce. Which is the hardest part of this whole affair for me, so 60% of the time, I eat the dang tortilla. It’s a long game.
My hope is that this kind of lengthy synopsis is helpful to someone getting started with THM, and to anyone (hi, Christy!) who doesn’t feel like slogging through the entire book. But this is by no means exhaustive. I’ve found a couple great blogs for THM recipes, and there’s a ton on Pinterest. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes very second nature, and it’s easy enough to reset after, say, 11 straight days of “cheating” in a foreign country. Or trick or treating, I’d imagine.
This is not a great before and after shot, it’s more of a progress shot. But you can tell in the (sorry, blurry) left picture from August that I still look vaguely pregnant and my face and arms are bigger. Everything has slimmed out a little bit in the picture on the right, taken earlier this week, and while I don’t look pregnant anymore (yay!), I probably have another 20-25 pounds to go. Which is fine. Piano, piano. (Oh, and Dave has also lost about 7 pounds just from eating what I’m serving. Which is a pretty awesome bystander effect.)